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Julian Meynell's Books

I like Books.


Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov, Craig Raine One of the best novels ever written. It inhabits the mind of its protagonist so effectively that sometimes it is mistaken as an apologia for pedophilia. The language of the book is brilliant, and it shows what it is like to be a completely evil person. Humbert Humbert's ability to lie to himself about who he is and what he is doing, is drawn in a way that is completely convincing, sharp and real. His inability to see the real Delores and his insistence on redrawing her as Lolita and trying to project that delusion onto the world is completely convincing.

It shouldn't be necessary to say this, but Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator. He is a full blown pedophile, who drugs and rapes his victim (who is the heroine of the book by the way) and who as she reaches the age of 14 and starts to become to old for him, he fantasizes about impregnating and having sex with her children, his daughters.

Humbert Humbert is not in love with Lolita. There is no Lolita. There is really Delores Haze who is a girl of 12 at the beginning of the book and who heroically survives Humbert. At first she does this by manipulating Humbert and resisting his obviously powerful narrative. Later, she flees to a less repulsive pedophile (yes Quilty is not as bad), and then successfully makes a new life for herself. She is the tragic doomed heroine of the book.

The language of the book is powerful and beautiful. The language is probably the most beautiful since Shakespeare. The book is brilliant. It is fundamentally about how evil works. Every truly evil person I have met has had no sense at all that they are evil. The world we live in is not one where people worship the dark side of the force like in Star Wars. The world we live in is one where evil lies to itself and where those lies are often believed by others. Nabakov was raised in the Soviet Union and that is in part why he was so intimately familiar with evil.

Pedophilia is a form of abuse and child and domestic abuse are linked to totalitarianism. They all use essentially the same techniques to perpetrate the domination, subjugation and destruction of people. Key to that subjugation is a narrative that is bought into by the victim. Lolita is so brilliant, because the narrative is so compelling. As mentioned, people often take that narrative at face value. Underneath this narrative the truth is continuously peaking out. Nabakov is often seen as a kind of intellectual game player, like Joyce. He is no such thing The games are always there for a reason, and he always has a point. Both Pale Fire and Pnin are about the exact same thing. In both those books a false narrative is imposed on the real narrative, and in both those books the real truth peaks out. Nabakov is obsessed with the creation of delusional, but compelling narratives and their role in oppression. He does this by approaching these narratives through the creator of the narrative's perspective.

I often link Orwell and Nabakov together in my mind. They are the two great writers about oppression and they have essentially the same point of view. Orwell writes from the victims point of view and grinds the oppression in your face, while Nabakov writes with ironic detachment from the oppressors point of view and sees the self-delusion involved as a kind of madness (which it is).

Everyone should read this book. It owes its fame not to its disturbing subject matter, but to its true greatness.

A brilliant book in every way.